He stands next to the door, nervously tapping his fingers against the wall. It feels coarse, covered with unevenly spread paint. He watches as students file into the classroom, one by one. He can’t go in now. He needs them to fill the emptiness that he dreads so much to face.
No one seems to want to know why he does it. They don’t give him the slightest of stares as they pass him. Either they don’t notice him, or they don’t care. He is fine with both. But he glances around anyway to check if anyone is looking. His eyes meet the wall next to the long row of lockers, expecting to be greeted by a familiar smudge of orange. Instead, what he finds staring back at him is a blank wall painted grey.
His hand absentmindedly reaches the inside of his pocket. His eulogy sits there, carefully folded, opened only once in its short lifetime. He opens it again.
“She used to have this umbrella since we were both so young,” it reads. “It is, to this day, the most orange umbrella I have ever seen. One of the earliest memories I have of her is her swinging that umbrella in the rain. Rain splattered all over our faces, but I didn’t mind.” Written in pencil over that was, “Actually, I did.” It proved to be a nice addition, as people shared laughs when he read that in her sister’s funeral.
He skims through the rest of the eulogy, a poorly written series of sentences that could have been almost poetic if he tried. Although, he recalls, that didn’t stop the modestly sized crowd from giving him polite smiles when he finished reading, except for his father, who remained as stoic as ever, who chose to live with his sister and not with him, until she died. At first, their father told his wife and son that she died of cancer. She got furious that he didn’t tell her about the diagnosis. Then he confessed that she actually died of suicide. No one knows why, and why he lied at first, either. She thinks he knows. But if he does, he hasn’t told anyone yet.
The paper scrunched up in his fist, he shoves it back where it belongs. The umbrella. Its disappearance was too coincidental, too bizarre to let it slide. It was always the only orange umbrella each rainy day amongst the sea of black and blue. He was almost sure the entire school knew. During the entire time she was alive, the umbrella hadn’t been off the wall except for when it was raining. But wasn’t today as sunny as it could get? He rushes to the nearest window, and yes, the sky is a perfect blue without a single speck of white in sight. Who steals an umbrella on a day when it can’t serve its purpose, and why?
He hasn’t got the slightest clue. But he can’t let them slip away. He sprints up a flight of stairs, then another. He’s never been here before. He grabs his knees, unable to catch his breath. He looks up. There’s a girl, laughing with what seems like her friends. He walks up to her and taps her on the shoulder. She turns around, rather reluctantly. He asks her if she has seen an orange umbrella. She asks him who goes looking for an umbrella on a day like this. That’s his point, he says. The girl laughs, then turns back to her friends. They don’t understand…
They don’t understand what the umbrella meant to his sister. Yes, he tells himself firmly, she loved it very much, that’s why she had it for so long. He didn’t know her well enough to confirm it. But he was sure of it.
Maybe, just maybe, if he could find a replacement for his umbrella, something as orange and plain as the original was, it might not matter as much. He runs all the way down to the school entrance and out to the nearest convenience store. Next to the door is a rack filled with umbrellas for sale. He picks the most orange one he could find and hands it to the cashier. It’s not orange enough, but he’ll take it.
He’s halfway to school when he feels something cold brush his hand. Then another. It’s raining. Having no other choice, he reluctantly opens the new umbrella, which does so with a fresh pop. His shoes brush against the sidewalk, his footsteps barely audible over the splatter of the rain. At last, he sees the school entrance, which seems empty, probably due to the lack of students, but also because of the added effects of the rain. He puts his foot on the first step towards when he sees a flash of orange. Instinctively, he turns around. There stands the janitor, with a matching orange umbrella in his hand. It’s the umbrella.
The janitor turns around. None of them say another word for a few seconds. Both of them stand in the rain, one much more orange than the other, one in search of the other. He opens his mouth, but his arm, raised in the direction of the janitor, did not know whether to chase the umbrella or his sister. His mouth closes on its own.